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The New World (2005)
6/10
Gitchee, but not Gumee
5 June 2006
There is a lot of good and bad to be said about this 20th century reality view of 'the Indian Princess', Pocahontas. First off, it seems to be another in a long line of 'east meets west' culture clash movies. (In this case, the Europeans are the 'east') The cinematography itself is beautiful, and the style manor and detail of costume and set will give you a 'glimpse' of the people of the time of King James.

There are some notable performances too, not award winning, but notable. "Q" Kilcher is, indeed gorgeous, and gives a fine portrait of 'prancing' Pocahantas. It is to her misfortune, however, that director Malick might of been a little too focused on her, and the end result is that it looks like a three hour screen test of Kilcher.

Colin Farrell proves he has talent indeed! Throughout the entire film, he wears an unflinching expression of a man who has forgotten something important, and just can't remember what it is.

Wes Studi adds another native American performance to a long list in his Hollywood career. Mr. Studi should be given an award for his portrayal of Native Americans throughout the years, because no one person has done more than Mr. Studi to dispel the 'typical' Hollywood 'cowboy and Indian' portrayal of Native Americans. Even when he has played the 'heavy', the portrait is strong and dignified.

Overall, it's pleasing entertainment, that could have been a 'lot shorter', and will entertain the history buff, but seems to be headed for the shelf in the wake of more exciting summer entertainment
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Munich (2005)
9/10
No Quiet on the Eastern Front.
21 May 2006
Powerful. Tense. Riveting. Everything. A Spielberg masterpiece that should be described in the "superlative degrees of comparisons only".

Once again, Steven Spielberg reflects, or perhaps supersedes the methods of the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. There's no need to describe the plot. There is no need to explain or criticize. It's the "way", the technique, the presentation, the integration of location +character+music+plot+effects that ascends to a heretofore unattained level of action and suspense. If you are able to look past the political issue, you will see a modern cinema masterpiece. Spielberg has come light years from 'Star Wars', 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' or 'Jurassic Park'. Creations such as 'Schindler's List' and 'Saving Private Ryan' and now 'Munich' make his science fiction entertainment seem like merely toys for children.

The film makes a political statement. It's bound to be controversial. The shady world of cross and double cross espionage, and an expose of, perhaps, a terrifying underground war, fought without concern for borders or boundaries. The presentation is far from one sided. In fact, there is a scene that parallels that of the captured German soldier in 'Pvt. Ryan', you get to see and hear 'the enemy'. It is not a 'war movie' as you might be used to, but it is a 'war movie' and the assassins eventually begin question their common confusion about the 'ethics' of their mission in this war.

This is cinema 101. A must see masterpiece.

As for the story, and the emotions that you're sure to experience, see it for yourself.
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King Kong (2005)
6/10
Gong Kong !
3 April 2006
Well, if a remake of this 'cult classic' had to be made, (again) , this is the way it should be, at least for now.

It's special effects are incomparable, to any other Kong, although some younger viewers might find some scenes a little too intense, (they might be a little 'bugged' by some scenes). Naomi Watts certainly proves that she deserves something a little more sophisticated, than co starring to a digital 25 foot tall gorilla.

And, as often happens to award winners, Adrien Brody is too recognizable as "the Pianist" to be a credible character in a sci-fi remake. (As opposed to Thomas Kretschmann ( Captain Englehorn, in Kong), who was also in the Pianist).

Jack Black does his "Denham" part with quite a different twist; more of an anti-hero than adventurer, and as good as he does it, it's untrue to the original "Carl Denham", which has it's merit, except for being true to the original.

It's great entertainment, but take a break about half way through, which would be about the "one-and-a-half-hour" mark. In fact, it would be great for a rainy summer weekend.
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10/10
Beauty and the East
2 April 2006
True to Arthur Golden's novel, 'Memoirs' will fascinate you like as if you were examining the facets of an exquisitely cut diamond.

Brilliant performances by Suzuka Ohgo as young Chiyo, (adorable), Ziyi Zhang as Geisha Sayuri, who seemed to put her whole heart and soul into the part, the two 'alter-egos' : Michelle Yeoh as Mameha and her bitter rival, Li Gong as Hatsumomo, 'the ageless' Ken Watanabe, and all the detail and all the research that went into this, gives us of a glimpse of the last years of the culture of Imperial Japan.

This 'legend' of a love story weaves together a kimono of fine silk threads of innocence destroyed, suffering, revenge, friendship, love, betrayal, rebirth, courage, dignity and honor and creates a print of beauty and tragedy.

It cannot, and should not be seen just once.

Dion Beebee's Cinematography was simply beautiful and stunning, and 'clearly', it takes into account the availability and use of the most current technology.

And who could not have guessed that Steven Spielberg's understanding of Japanese culture, first exemplified in "Empire of the Sun" did have 'a hand' in this Spielberg/Lucy Fisher production.

It is an unfortunate coincidence, almost as in the tragic tradition of the far east, that this did not win an award for best picture, as 'Empire' should have won in 1988. I'm not a critic, by any means; just an ordinary viewer. But I simply cannot fathom by what means that the Motion Picture Academy uses to judge 'Best Picture'.

This goes beyond entertainment, and into the realm of cinema art, a just wonderful and enchanting tale. See it and judge for yourself.

{On a large screen LCD with an upconverting DVD, it was all the more stunning}
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7/10
Like Black Forrest Cake!!
27 December 2005
Talk about dark comedies! This is most certainly a 'fractured' fairy tale, with some scary moments, but really good special effects, some of 'which' might 'curl your toes'! Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, Peter Stormare and Lena Headey team up as 'spell-busters' to find the missing children of a village cursed by an ancient (once vainly beautiful) queen (Monica Bellucci), surrounded by a forest haunted and guarded by a really big really bad wolf. Ehren Kruger's screenplay and Terry Gilliam's Monty Python like direction use the famous Grimm's Brother stories to create a comical nightmare that 'weaves' together these bedtime tales into a wild, fast changing, non stop, and sometimes grotesque adventure. One caveat : this is certainly 'geared' towards adults, who will be reminded of those things that once frightened our imaginations as children! All in all : excellent entertainment!
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3/10
Shakespeare in digital.
12 November 2005
I've had the good fortune to have heard, many years ago, good Shakespeare, (free, no less) in Central Park, NYC.

Reading Shakespeare is an art. A high art. When you hear the words of this most extraordinary literary genius, it can be understood. Perhaps, not in every nuance, but understood, as if one were hearing a merely flowery form of English.

Unfortunately, although superstars of the screen, Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons and Joseph Fiennes (ironically), struggle. They seem to be reading and do not bring (respectively :) Shylock, Antonio, and Bassanio to life. (If you are intent of watching this, then note how Shakespearean trained Lynn Collins seems natural and alive as Portia.)

And, to make matters worse, against the back ground music, one must strain the ears to fetch the words and follow this complicated and doubly tragic story of Prejudice and Pride. Some of it is simply unintelligible.

Every once in a while, some one comes up with the bright idea of bringing Shakespeare to the screen. Then they load the production with great performers, who spent their career on everything but Shakespeare, and expect a success.

It's a great idea to present Shakespeare to wide audience; when it's done right, it's absolutely great. But for heaven's sake, leave it to those artist who have spent their careers 'living' Shakespeare.

If anything good is to be said for this tragic tale, it is the locations. Pay attention to the extraordinarily beautifully decorated buildings of the Venetian and Luxembourgers of centuries ago. Use that stop button to see the renaissance, post renaissance and rococo details.

And you might as well, since there's little else to entertain you.
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2/10
Sin City
9 October 2005
The digital age seems to have revived the great Hollywood spectacle. With far fewer "extras" than the great cinema epics of the past, and with computer generated images, fantastic scenes that would have required "a cast of thousands" and dozen acre sets, can be done for a fraction of the cost and effort.

This is the case with " Kingdom of Heaven " .

Unfortunately, what the new 'DeMilles" don't realize (In this case the fabulous Ridley Scott) is that you need greater than life performers to go along with the vistas.

The most impressive performance was that of Ghassas Massoud, as King Saladin the Great, and he did not even get a top billing! Liam Neeson is well on his way to becoming on of the all time greats. I measure this by the decreasing amount of screen time he seems to be getting. (Brando holds the record with his 12 minute multi million dollar 'Superman' Cameo) All in all, aside from the battle spectaculars, this epic will not carry you along as if caught in the flood of adventure as in the epics of old. In fact it is quite dull.

However, with a little imagination, it could have been great, had the film told the story from the Salidin side, with the ancient intrigues and power struggles of those ancient Arabian royal courts.

Don't rush out to make this one of your "Arabian Nights" right away.
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Alexander (2004)
4/10
The 'bust' of Alexander
9 August 2005
Having read a great deal of literature over the years, I've developed a feeling that, because of their suffering throughout the ages, God mercifully bestowed the gift of great literature and theater upon the Irish.

This will be obvious in Alexander, for although this takes place in ancient Greece, on would think that, by the overwhelming wonderful Irish accents, the cast had rehearsed for Beckett's "Waiting for Godot".

Kilmer and Jolie were excellent as Philip and Olympias, respectively, although I don't know why they had the wonderfully beautiful Jolie speak with a Hollywood type of Russian accent,that was reminiscent of Natasha, of Rocky and Bullwinkle fame.

As for Alexander, well, he sure did remind me of those ancient 'busts' but was far from inspirational. Actually he reminded me of Mel Gibson, who would have made a splendid Alexander.

Mr Stone would have done better to have focused on a particular incident or two to capture Alexander. Perhaps the two brilliant victories engineered by 'ATG' against Darius, against a vastly superior Presian force.

One last note. Angelina Jolie should make a pilgrimage to Greece to thank the all the ancient gods that Olympias never met her daughter-in-law, Roxan, face to face. Rosario Dawson certainly would have 'drawn attention' from Jolie's center stage performance, if that had to be written into the script.

All-in-all, I preferred the history channel documentary to this choppy epic.
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5/10
The Maltese Eagle
15 May 2005
All this 'Templar Knights' stuff is becoming a little 'long-in-the-tooth'. No disrespect to the historical truth of the Knights of the Templar, nor Masons, nor anyone, but good heavens, enough already! I think that the only movie formula left undone, would be a Mel Brooks comedy on this subject.

On the good side, I'll tell you that the cast is great with fun performances by Cage, Kruger, Bartha and Bean, and then 'stacked' with nice work by Christopher Plummer, John Voight and Harvey Keitel, to boot.

All in all, it's a fun movie; a big long solve run chase twist and solve, some tense moments, with hardly any violence, nor ear curling language, nor eye popping 'romance', hence, a good family movie that everyone can enjoy.

If I had to say anything negative, well, if you want more violence, language and 'romance', this can get a little long and boring and tedious with a seemingly endless 'sequence' of clues.

But one way or the other, it's still worth seeing.

I guess that all these Templar Knight mysteries are, well, "the, uh, stuff that dreams are made of".
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Hotel Rwanda (2004)
7/10
Rusesabagina's List
25 April 2005
I do not intend to sound sarcastic by my above 'one-line-summary'; for if the real life Paul Rusesabagina, a 'Hutu', did the things he was portrayed to do, to save hundreds of 'Tutsi', then indeed there is a comparison with great people of conscience like Oscar Schindler.

The story is that of the infamous 'ethnic cleansing' of minority Tutsi's by their nationalist rivals, the Hutu's. The film also cleverly weaves in the reasons for the deep ethnic hatred between these peoples, by ordinary conversations between locals and European visitors.

The violence is not nearly as bad as one might expect. In fact, the actual news reel footage that the world 'witnessed' at the time of this genocide was far, far worse than the movie portrays.

The film will rivet you to the screen, as you follow 'Paul' beg, borrow, steal and bribe to save the lives of the 'hotel guests' Well worth seeing, a little bit 'over' on the acting but smartly sensitive to the brutal violence that Hollywood so often turns out, (even in its' jests) just a wee bit to long but,still, a story that need to be told, and more importantly needs to be heard.
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6/10
Bottoms up!
15 March 2005
Surprisingly, the top billed Kevin Costner seems a little tense and upstaged by Robert De Niro and Sean Connery, and the great supporting performances of Andy Garcia and Charles M Smith and Billy Drago.

The plot moves at a good clip, there's lots of excitement and a climatic cop-gangster shoot-out that's probably one of the best ever! Mostly fiction, little fact, the story of the 'untouchable' Treasury agent Elliot Ness that took the badest of the bad bootleggers, the infamous unconvictable Alfonse Capone (who else could do this but Di Niro?) Brian De Palma, teamed up with the colorfully rich cinematography of Stephan Burum create a comic book like action adventure that's sure to be entertaining and a good choice if there's nothing to catch your fancy in the new release shelf.
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8/10
Truly, a gem!
24 January 2005
Probably John Frankenheimer's best production, and Frank Sinatra's best cinema performance.

I saw this because of the recent 'remake', I would assume that the reader will be making the same comparison. Having never seen this before, I found myself riveted to the story, and absolutely great performances by Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, Angela Lansbury, Henry Silva, John McGiver, James Gregory, and Leslie Parrish.

Coincidently, I had just recently finished reading some previously published works about the cold war, in particular the Chambers-Hiss court cases.

It might be accident, but I wouldn't doubt it might have been intended by Frankenheimer to choose Harvey, who resembled Hiss, in appearance and McGiver who resembled Chambers appearance. When this was released in 1962, the Hiss-Chambers spy fiasco was still fresh in the public's mind.

Other American political images are not for want of satire either, since Lansbury and Gregory seemed to have reminded me, in appearance, of Mary and (honest) Abe Lincoln.

The pace, style and non stop tension rivals Hitchcock; it will certainly have you wondering if he had anything to do with this! Truly Frankenhiemer, excels here.

Because Sinatra was box office magnet, most of his other roles seemed 'fitted' for him. Not here! You'll have a chance to see the real Frank Sinatra, really working to make the part work, and without a doubt, he too excels in his role.

I don't think I'll bother to see the recent version yet. I want to see this original classic a few more times.
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The Village (2004)
3/10
Unspeakable Horror!
10 January 2005
I think that there was an ulterior motive to this production : it was designed so that it could not be critiqued, with out 'spoiling' the film for the reader. But I will try.

First the dialog : for those reasons, of which I cannot speak of, was awful. It was as if the cast (which included William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Joaquim Phoenix , Brendon Gleeson and Bryce Howard) had to be untrained to act. It reminded me of a high school Shakespeare production.

Why? Why do they speak as though this takes place not here and now but in an unknown time and place not of the choosing of mortal men and of mortal women?

Then there was costume and props. They didn't just span decades. They spanned centuries! For those unmentionable things, of which I can not speak, I couldn't figure why this had to be this way. It look as though the village was furnished by PBS's 'Antique Road Show'. Had the costumes and props been consistent, the entire story would have been much more believable. But I will speak no more of this for it is not to be spoken of.

And then, everything creaks! Everything. Every step, every door, every box, everything! There are no sounds in the forrest except twigs snapping. No birds, no crickets, no other noises excpt for that swarm of invisible flys .... of which, my sense of sight does not perceive.

Then there is the story itself. It seemed to purposely imitate the Stephan King style.Of course there is a 'moral to this story', and it's totally 'retro'. The film missed the point, and the audience by about twenty years.

I would not doubt that the imaginative M. Night Shamalan will one day come up with a winner, but "The Village" certainly is not it.
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Troy (2004)
6/10
My Big Fat Greek Tragedy
2 January 2005
I didn't expect it, but this was surprisingly good.

Although some viewers might expect this to be an epic of Brad Pitt running around in a cocktail dress, it isn't by far.

In fact Peter O'Toole(Priam), Brian Cox (Agamemnon) , Brendan Gleeson (Menelaus), Eric Bana (Hector), along with Brad Pitt (Achilles) are all excellent, right down to the bitter end.

The story is the story of Troy, although somewhat condensed and does 'outline', Homer's epic work.

The special effects are excellent. The presentation just borders the classical stage, and the portrayals of these tragic heroes brought to life will appeal to your conception of the ancient Greeks of legend.

Some sound effects are a bit over done, like sword 'clanking' and infantry charges, that sound more like cattle drives, and there is a heavy base overtone, that detracts from beautiful, and well placed vocals.

So forget those expensive translations, toss out those 'Cliff Notes' and get Troy, a reborn classic.
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King Arthur (2004)
4/10
The King Arthur Card
26 December 2004
Truly now, is there not more to the history of Britain than this 'King Arthur' myth ?

When it comes to action, well I must admit, that this is a 'capital one' : plenty of 5th century battle, mixed with second century Roman Legionaries, and according to the 'archeological evidence', as mentioned in the opening credits, 9th century Saren horsemen who have made there way clear up to Hadraians wall.

(For those of you who haven't yet studied the arcana of the Russian steppes,Sarens, Alans, and Huns were among the ancient nomadic horse people who settled in south central Europe, and south western Russka)

Aside from some historical oddities, there are some linguistic oddities, like those (angelo?) villagers who spoke like they just walked off the streets of Liverpool, and Romans who spoke with Italian accents! (What gaul?)

I don't mean to discourage any one from seeing this; it's good fun The violence isn't too bad, and (ironicly) there is a complete absence of any Angelo-saxon four letter words.

King Arthur has served as mythical entertainment for centuries, and this film capitalizes, once more, on the myth.
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Shrek 2 (2004)
Terrible Twos
15 November 2004
Shrek II is loaded with superb computer animations, lots of Hollywood hit gags, a grown up style story, and is lots of fun to watch. However, I did get the impression after a while, that this was something of a 'DVD promotional feature' with its comical reminders of recent box office hits,

As it is with the great majority of "II's", the initial 'shock and awe' that was delivered with the original Shrek is, necessarily absent from the 'II'.

In spite of the extraordinary lifelike animation, the recent run of big-star-voice and animation presentations has taken some of the 'air' out of Shrek II. This has been the case with animated film features since Steam Boat Willy. Just ask Roger Rabbit.

"II" is okay, but I don't think I'd bother to see III, if there is one.
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Another Disaster!
18 October 2004
Let me tell you right away, that, if you haven't seen to many of these 'end-of-the-world' movies, then I'll tell you that the story , the special effects, music, it's pace action, etc, etc, etc, are all good.

But I've got to say, that I'm bored with the world being destroyed. I've seen it destroyed by giant moths (with a set of miniature twins, no less), fifty foot men, fifty foot women, nuclear bombs, radiation, stray planets, asteroids, nuclear bombs again, Martians, too much water, a flaming dragon, , pea pods, earthquake, volcano, 'a crack in the world' (You should have seen what caused that), apes, birds, more pea pods, zombies, a space virus, and on and on and on.

In any event, the overall performances of everyone cast, is 'on par' with any other mass destruction movie ever made.

I can't imagine what'll end the world next? (Perhaps Mel Gibson will make a sequel).
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Amen!
11 October 2004
Although not as zany as 'Oh Brother', "The Ladykillers" is truly a heavenly example of the creative comical talent of Joel and Ethan Coen.

Tom Hanks creates another dynamic character and adds to his long list of accomplishments 'in the form of' this out of the past, Victorian type rogue, (a certain Professor Dorr).

Irma P Hall shares center stage as the true-to-heart Christian widow, who falls victim to Hank's scheme, and carries the banner for the side of good.

Of course, what would a Coen comedy be without music? Well it just wouldn't be! The theme here is the power of Gospel.

Subtle and sophisticated, funny and smart, 'The Ladykillers' won't leave you feeling like you've drawn a 'short straw' at the video store!

(N.B. : One can not help but notice the Kubrick like technique in this, sharp clean lines, blending of costume and scenery, and the use of filters. It fact, if there are spirits from 'the other side' in this plot, one of them must certainly be Kubrick.)
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Moore or less?
5 October 2004
It's difficult to comment on this as good or bad entertainment, in an unbiased way.

Here's an idea of what you're going to watch :

It' is more like a very long political campaign commercial, against the incumbents. If you relish 'paid-for-by...' type of late season ads, you'll like this. If you're voting for the challenger, you'll think it's the greatest thing, since 'Gone with the Wind' (It's not as long, but it'll feel that way)

The first part deals with the oil trade and the connections between the Saudis and the west and the oil trade ( by the way, that have existed this way since the first world war).

Then there are a lot of graphic civilian and troop casualties, but absolutely no graphic images of the 9/11 attack. (I guess Mr. Moore wanted to be sensitive to 'those people') I found this rather odd, but after carefully reading the disclaimer at the beginning of this, er, whatever it is, it appears that it is not meant to inflame everyone.

My advise: it's exactly what you'll expect, based on what you've heard, and if you're looking for entertainment , well, this isn't all that much fun.
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Spartan (2004)
Helen of Martha's Vineyard?
3 October 2004
Initially, you'll feel like you've walked into a movie that has already started. (In fact, I thought that something was wrong with my DVD player, and I started it again!)

To make matters worse, the dialogue is choppy. For the first hour, I felt like I missed something, and I just couldn't piece it together.

The good side of this 'spy thriller' are having Val Kilmer and W.H. Macy to bring some degree of professionalism to it.

If you've never seen a spy thriller before, it's okay.It has a good twist, but if you know this type of story, you'll realize that it couldn't possibly be so obvious.

Else, it's rather predictable and not all too exciting.
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The Alamo (2004)
We really need to forget this, people.
28 September 2004
There is a scene in which Santa Anna tells his staff that if the Alamo isn't crushed, that their grandchildren and their great grandchildren will have to live off the crumbs of the north Americans.

How prophetic!

Dennis Quaid, Billy Bob Thornton, Emilio Echevarria, and the entire cast combine to give remarkably great performances to this very unfortunate period between the United States, and its close neighbor, Mexico. We do share a lot between us, now, however.

The movie, story, its pace and battle action are good. The back round music, is a bit over done. But the timing and subject matter are terrible! With all due respect, all that was Mexico at one time, all the way up to California. I'd like to know what our southern neighbors, or even some of our newest citizens, think of this heroic adventure!

The early US was a very aggressive confederation with designs on both Canada and the west, north of the Rio Grande. The British kept us in check, up north. President Thomas Jefferson offered Mexico millions for the south and west lands with one hand, and perhaps tried to provoke a war, covertly, under some back room dealings designed by Aaron Burr, with the other. (Which led to Burr's treason trial).

(There was a little mention of one of the many land schemes, in the opening sequence.)

Well, enough said. Comments here are for comments on the entertainment, in this case a good action movie, and not for a history lesson.

Clearly, history should be taught in school.
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From the depths...
24 September 2004
This is truly a remarkable story, that should serve as an inspiration to all. Never give up. Never do nothing. Never wait for the rescue.

Unfortunately, this message will reach fewer people than it could have because it was presented as semi-documentary, semi-entertainment.

If it wasn't for the extraordinary efforts of Mr. Simpson, and his victory over dooming odds, it was terribly presented. The cutting back and forth to the real life characters was almost always sharp and unexpected, the 'voice over' the acted scenes muted the excitement and the filming itself looked amateurish.

It's too bad that PBS didn't get a hold of this first, where it could have been presented more professionally, reached a bigger audience, with the right format and for a better purpose and best of all would have reached viewers time and time again, instead of being forgotten on video store shelves.

Professional climbing has given audiences some of the most exciting adventures in history, like "Into Thin Air" and "K2". "Touching the Void" is another such story, but better if read than watched.
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Hidalgo (2004)
Mustang s-Ali
23 August 2004
Omar Sharif graces the sliver screen once more, albeit a supporting role, in this based-on-a-true-story of a one time Bill Cody showman and cowboy.

Viggo Mortensen plays well the leading role of Frank Hopkins, who accepts an offer to enter his horse, Hidalgo, in a grueling Arabian horse race.

You won't be disappointed, nor will you be surprised as the framework is pretty much that of a standard formula action adventure.

In fact, Hidalgo, (played by TJ) often steals the show with a terrific side-ways startled look.

Good family entertainment, but nothing very unique nor memorable.
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A fist full of yen.
16 August 2004
Talk about fusion! Take two cultures, half a world apart, and let Quentin and Uma fold them together!

Quentin Tarantino, with this second installment and concluding volume of 'Kill Bill', proves that perhaps, his genius has no limit.

Tarantino has mastered the art of taking humorous absurdities, situations, characters and creating a definitive plot, to which a conclusion is as certain as the next full moon.

Although not a violent as the first, it's a masterpiece of the comic book like story, plus the low budget eastern action adventure film and that (almost) all takes place in the American southwest.

It's as if he carried the Kurt Vonnegut style to a more subtle, and higher plane.

No doubt his careful selection of Thurman, Carradine, Hannah, Jackson, et. al., (the Quentin crazy 88's) make this 'come alive, and breath'.

But the real master here is Tarantino.

If you like the bizarre, the cabaret of the unusual, and Tarantino then see both see the Bill's.
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Shogun, Vol.2
10 May 2004
Perhaps it's irony, perhaps it's marketing, but as James Clavell's "Shogun" dramatized the beginning of the great Shogun dynasties, "The last Samurai" dramatizes its downfall.

In fact it's over dramatized. Way over.

Ken Watanabe does manage to lift this mediocre action adventure with a performance that, for the most part, brings to life the ultimately beautiful, and extraordinarily refined culture of ancient Japan.

The motives, the rush to westernize and the planting of the seeds of the militaristic period, are probably close to the actual historical events. (Well close enough for Hollywood work, anyway.)

Tom Cruise does well, too, as an tormented American mercenary, under contract to modernize the Japanese army. (Which, in fact, the Japanese managed to do rather well, as we all know.)

The entire plot, though, is a just a shadow of the ol' 'cultural transition plot'; you know, the kind of story where someone from (usually) western culture is suddenly thrust into, absorbs and becomes adopted by the foreign culture. "Lawrence of Arabia" or "Dances with Wolves" are two good examples.

There are a couple of really good battle scenes, and if you think that music and battle don't mix, well, just turn off the sound.

All in all, it's okay. But nothing more than okay.
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